The Whites wind up this four-team annual tournament in Bangkok against Gabon on Sunday. Both sides lost their opening games on Thursday – the Africans, without Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang because of a family bereavement, lost on penalties to hosts Thailand and their next opponents were edged 2-1 by Slovakia.
Coach Alberto Zaccheroni is now likely to unleash prospects such as Al Nasr’s Jassem Yaqoub and Al Wahda’s Mohamed Al Akbari at Rajamangala National Stadium.
With Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout absent because of disciplinary issues, brother Mohamed is urging the Whites to take on board as much as they can ahead of January 2019’s Asian Cup on home soil.
“Participation in the King’s Cup is very useful,” said the 29-year-old Al Ain utility man ahead of this third-place play-off. “This is especially true for the technical staff, who will gain more knowledge of the players.
“Gabon is one of the strongest teams from Africa, but our team has strong desires to win.”
Gabon also failed to make World Cup 2018. Despite boasting players like Southampton battler Mario Lemina, they are ranked 16 places lower by FIFA in 95th.
“I believe that for the game to secure the third place for this tournament against the UAE, our players will play better,” said coach Jose Antonio Camacho.
“Gabon will try our best in this game.”
Coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena is confident the Al Wasl supporters “know very well” he’s trying everything possible to end a wretched run ahead of Thursday’s Arabian Gulf Cup semi-final decider against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
A season that once held great promise has disintegrated for the Cheetahs thanks to winning just one of their last 11 matches in all competitions. This worrying spell included a goalless draw at Rashid Stadium as they attempt to win a first trophy in eight years.
“We work hard for the team, we always criticise ourselves,” said Arruabarrena.
“The Al Wasl fans know very well that we have been doing our best for a year and a half and that we are not wasting anything on the team. In this period, we will do our utmost to achieve a trophy.”
Opponents Shabab Al Ahli have endured a trying debut campaign after last May’s merger.
In a former guise as Al Ahli, they are the AG Cup’s holders. Current leader Mahdi Ali hoped to spring a surprise.
He said: “Al Wasl is a good team, they have players and a coach at high level coach.
“In cup games, there are always surprises.”
In the day’s other tie, 2015/16 winners Al Wahda hold a commanding 4-2 advantage when they travel to Dibba Al Fujairah.
Despite this, and a 22-point gap in the Arabian Gulf League, boss Laurentiu Reghecampf is taking nothing for granted.
He said: “We have to respect the capabilities of the opposing team. We know that the game will be difficult and we will seek to win.”
Dibba have never won a major trophy and this is the farthest they’ve ever gone in the AG Cup.
Coach Paulo Comelli’s belief in a marquee result remained intact.
He said: “We know that this game represents a special task. Al Wahda is strong.
“I have high confidence in my team. My trust in them is never shaken.”
The UAE will attempt to ignore the controversy caused by the exiles of star pair Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout when they kick-off their 2018 King’s Cup campaign against Slovakia on Thursday.
Here are the major talking points for the match in Thailand:
A NEW CORONATION
Ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan coach Alberto Zaccheroni cannot be accused of dodging major decisions.
His personal choice to abandon 2016 AFC Player of the Year Abdulrahman and 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Mabkhout risks further poor results in the first games since they broke curfew before the Gulf Cup final loss to Oman in early January.
Zaccheroni attempted to downplay their exclusions, saying in Bangkok on Wednesday: “There is nothing to worry about the lack of two players.”
It will be interesting to see how long this stance holds ahead of January 2019’s Asian Cup on home soil. Especially if emerging attackers Rayan Yaslam, Jassem Yaqoub and Ahmed Al Attas don’t grasp opportunities to shine in two fixtures this week.
CAN ZACCHERONI CONVINCE?
The UAE have been a tough watch under Zaccheroni.
After a failed third round of World Cup 2018 qualifying under predecessors Mahdi Ali and Edgardo Bauza that saw 13 goals conceded in 10 games, he’s targeted defence as an area of improvement since his appointment in October.
The introduction of his trademark 3-4-2-1 formation saw zero goals conceded at the Gulf Cup. But they only found the back of the net once in five miserly games in Kuwait, through Mabkhout’s opening Group A penalty against Oman.
Captain Ali Khaseif moved to quell serious rumblings of discontent. He said: “The coach cannot be judged at the moment and a strong defence starts us in the right way.”
BOX OFFICE WORRIES
The King’s Cup is one of the most-important annual events on the Thai football calendar.
Unfortunately, a serious talent drain has been witnessed in 2018.
Rajamangala National Stadium will not rock to Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik after he was injured in Napoli’s 1-0 win against Genoa on Sunday, while the death of Arsenal superstar Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s grandmother has seen him stay in Europe. This followed Abdulrahman’s and Mabkhout’s absences.
The hosts will now embrace watching diminutive playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin. His progress has kicked up a notch on loan at J1 League’s Consadole Sapporo.